While the pursuit of happiness in the present pervades popular narratives of happiness and the good life, the work of Adorno and Arendt casts doubt on the possibility of this lucrative goal. For Adorno, happiness occurs only in memory, while Arendt is sceptical about the possibility of experience between past and future and uses happiness to demonstrate her suspicion. Meanwhile, GH Mead offers an alternative that rejects these counter-intuitive perspectives by reaffirming that all experiences necessarily take place in the present. This article will assess each of these claims alongside the view that contemporary happiness discourse favours the pragmatic notion of happiness in the present. The article will then conclude by considering the potential for Simmel’s transcending theory of experience – set out in his final major work View of Life (1918) – to resolve these tensions and support a theory of time, experience, emotion and knowledge that is capable of responding to the challenges set out by Adorno, Arendt and Mead.